9

So, I work in a three man office, just me, the boss, and the lead developer. I'm the grunt of the office, usually my duties involve "Copy this!", "Fax that!", and "Pick up lunch!". I occasionally get involved in larger projects when the lead dev's workload spills over (I WAS hired under the pretense I would be developing regularly, now it's a rare treat to get to see code).

On the occasions where I get into something more serious, I do my best to play along and work with everyone, but I am generally kept out of the loop of business meetings and don't always get all the info on new policies or direction changes. This creates times when the boss and lead dev have been aware of the change for a few days before I catch wind of it. The boss assumes (even though neither of them have told me) that I should know too. When I continue working happily along with plan XYZ, he'll usually fire off some line about "No I said ABC", when the last direction I got in the matter was "XYZ".

I've tried double checking what I'm doing with him, and if I'm behind in what we should be doing, it just incurs the above conversation sooner than it would have. While this lets me transition to ABC sooner, I still get the impression it ticks my boss off that I have wasted any time on XYZ. I don't feel I can talk to him about it, because he genuinely seems to remember telling about the new directions explicitly (at least, if he doesn't genuinely remember it, he assumes he did the correct thing, which is only natural I guess).

How can I proactively deal with exclusion on company news while still doing what I can to be kept in the loop? I don't want to get to nosy about what happens in these meetings, after all I'm not excluded from ALL meetings, and I assume there's (good or otherwise) reason I'm excluded from certain meetings. I feel like part of the reason I'm excluded is because of the boss' impression about me always being behind, so it's a pretty nasty cycle and I feel it will eventually get me canned. I have a sneaking suspicion I'm only still around because the lead dev appreciates the help. My predecessors filled much more of a secretarial role than I do, however given that 'A bachelors or higher in CS' with years of coding experience was a job requirement, I suspect the lead dev fought for a change in my positions function that my boss isn't quite agreeing with.

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    @Dunk I understand the confusion, name and all, but last time I checked I was a guy. =P – Sidney Oct 28 '14 at 16:21
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    @Sidney never the less, it does sound like your boss has forgotten why you were hired. Has this been addressed? – Sigal Shaharabani Oct 28 '14 at 18:13
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    "(I WAS hired under the pretense I would be developing regularly, now it's a rare treat to get to see code)" - Get the hell out of their! Programmers program...they don't pick up lunches, or make photo copies. Even the most junior of us! What are you gonna put on your CV in a year? – Roman Mik Oct 28 '14 at 20:36
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    I'm with @RomanMik .. I know "just quit!" is considered by some to be an unacceptable answer on The Workplace, but you're poisoning your career progression, at a crucial early stage, and not even enjoying the job! – Carson63000 Oct 28 '14 at 23:32
  • Both Carson and RM have the right of it. I wouldn't at all condone quitting a good job, or even a bad "entry" job, but you're not a programmer. You're a glorified gofer (go fer this, go fer that). No experience in your chosen field means no experience to rely on in another position. Stick it on your resume with the things you DID get to code, and when asked why you left you can let the new company know the situation. At least it'll show that you WANT to program to the next company. Ducks in a row, line up a new job and get out. The fact someone else already did should be telling enough... – SliderBlackrose Apr 17 '17 at 14:09
11

I've been in this situation before, and I am pretty sure my boss had a undiagnosed condition of bipolar disorder. Even confronted with an email stating what he had asked, he dismissed it.

You have two choices - if you want to stay in the company, do everything in your power not to make him angry, and don't try to prove you are right - this will get you into even more trouble. If he changed his mind and wants ABC instead of XYZ, make everything you can to forget XYZ ever existed, and only show proof if pressured. ABC is now the order of the day, everything else does not exist. I've seen people thrive and actually take advantage of such conditions on their bosses, it is almost maddening to see.

The second choice is to go away and try finding a saner place. Easier said than done, I know.

9

First, talk with the lead dev. Ask them to give you heads up when things change so you can adapt quickly to the new requirements.

Next, I would suggest starting your week with an email directed to the Lead Dev and cc'ing your boss. The email should be 'this week's plan', where you outline what you're planning on doing, how you're going to go about it, and what you expect to be done by the end of the week.

You should finish off your week with another email saying "This is what I accomplished. Have a good weekend!" Never ask questions in this email, or state where you failed. It should just be a quick, there is where I'm at.

This way, the lead dev knows what your working on, and when things change, they know what to tell you about. This also gives your boss a heads up on what you're working on without you always going right to him and asking "Am I doing this right?" It also sets up clear expectations of what you plan to accomplish so they can be changed and updated on the fly. It would also make their lives easier if they ever need to report on where you're at on a task.

Open the communication. Also, by using email you have something to refer both yourself and your boss back to if need be. It might also help, after having a convo with your boss, to send a summery email saying "I just want to make sure I got all this. Please correct me if I mixed anything up."

4

Ok this is type of thing is symptomatic of a disorganized small company with an autocratic boss. Your situation might not be fixable. But as @RomanMik and @ChrisLively say, you need to take charge and start standing up for yourself. You might well have some issues yourself you need to identify and sort out. My comments:

  • "I WAS hired under the pretense I would be developing regularly, now it's a rare treat to get to see code". How long has this nonsense been going on? You should have put your foot down the minute it started. Anyway, talk to the boss and tell them, verbally and in writing, that you want the developer responsibility you were promised. Reference the original job spec. Get a commitment. Or, more realistically, be prepared to quit, or have him try to get rid of you. Your boss sounds like a lunatic. And the developer isn't standing up for you. There's more going on than just your description.
  • Your job function sounds like bullshit/ office support/ admin/ gopher. Sorry to say. You say they have a long history of doing this. (How soon did you find that out? Next time, try to find out at interview, or before you accept the offer)
  • Do you have a real job title? and a written job description? Sounds like you don't, or if you do it's not worth the paper it's written on. It isn't 'Developer', 'DevOps', 'Tester'.
  • Never ever ever again accept a job without a clear title and position spec. The position spec should define stuff you spend at least 50+% of your time on. If an employer can't come up with a basic coherent one, don't touch them with a bargepole. Even more importantly, use the interview to quietly verify (behaviorally) with multiple people that what they said on paper corresponds to what they'll actually ask you to do. (You'd be surprised how often it doesn't). A great behavioral tactic to ask in the interview is to ask the boss, your coworkers, etc. what your daily responsibilities will be, what main tasks you would work on in a 7/30/60/90/365 day window.

  • "How can I proactively deal with exclusion on company news while still doing what I can to be kept in the loop?" You can't. That's a symptom, not the root-cause. You were hired under false expectations into a badly-run company. Having bad communications in a team of three(!) is a terminal symptom of bad culture.

  • "I feel like part of the reason I'm excluded is because of the boss' impression about me always being behind [you mean late?], so it's a pretty nasty cycle and I feel it will eventually get me canned. I have a sneaking suspicion I'm only still around because the lead dev appreciates the help. My predecessors filled much more of a secretarial role than I do". Ok, whoa, hang on. There are at least five separate red flags in that. If you think the boss effectively demoted you from junior developer to gopher because you didn't get things done, then address that. (Ask the developer privately for his opinion first, btw.) Schedule a meeting with the boss. Just put that impression to him and tell him the situation is unacceptable. Or, get a job offer elsewhere, before you have that conversation. Either way, take control.

  • Why would the boss have the impression about you're "always behind"? Is that a real issue? a communication issue, on your part? bad task specification? Do they need to use an agile task board and daily standups? You should have jumped on this when it first started happening. If it's the case you're not up to the job you were hired for, then either figure out how to improve, or leave. Try to figure out how the boss's perception got so badly out of whack, and ask/figure out how you might have changed that. No use complaining to us about being left out.

  • "However given that 'bachelors or higher in CS' with years of coding experience was a job requirement, I suspect the lead dev fought for a change in my positions function that my boss isn't quite agreeing with." Maybe you're right. Just ask the developer, straight up. What next if you are right? In future, try to detected fucked-up political situations in the interview by asking diplomatic yet probing questions, and/or by reference-checking.

Anyway, try to get answers, then have a discussion with the boss; unless you figure it's time to quietly leave, in which case brush up your resume and get your interviewing shoes on, already. Appraise your performance and experience frankly, and what you want to improve. Ask the developer, if you can trust him (or else ask him after you quit, possibly over lunch). And develop a better radar for bullshit situations.

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    Thank you smci. I actually had an interview with another (better) location yesterday, and am waiting on a followup interview. This post gives me plenty of questions to ask at that followup to ensure that I am fully aware of what I have been hired to do. – Sidney Dec 18 '14 at 19:12
  • Ok good luck... – smci Dec 19 '14 at 8:11
  • @smci what were the "five red flags" you mentioned in the "I feel like part of the reason(...)" bullet? – Mindwin Jan 8 '15 at 20:06
  • @Mindwin: 1) he hasn't a real job 2) he isn't doing what he was hired to do and isn't getting any useful experience 3) he doesn't have any written job description, certainly not a useful one 4) neither the boss nor senior guy talk to him 5) or are trustworthy 6) the boss treated the previous people in this position as secretarial too 7) he mentions "the boss's impression about me always being behind... feel it will eventually get me canned" without telling us the circumstances of that. Sounds like they've never communicated clearly about the job and its requirements. – smci Jan 8 '15 at 21:24
3

Go talk to your boss about this.

Let him know that you'd like to sit in on the meetings so that you can get a clearer picture of what to do. Tell him that you feel like you would be more effective if you could be in on the discussions that impact your work.

You might have to have a few discussions like this with him until he gets it.

If it continues and you report status on ABC and he says I wanted you to work on XYZ, then politely state that you weren't informed of that and wait for his response. Just stay calm and polite. If he values you then he'll change.

  • I'd like to agree with this, unfortunately, I feel that because of repeated iterations of this cycle, he doesn't value me as much more than someone to cover the phones. – Sidney Oct 28 '14 at 15:03
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    @Sidney: There's not much more to do here. If he truly only valued you for covering the phones then there wouldn't be an issue of whether ABC or XYZ was on your task list. If you want to stay in this position then you need to take control. People who take charge are highly valued. People who sit back and complain that they didn't get the memo aren't. Seriously, you should be talking to this guy for at least a few minutes each day preferably when you get in and before you walk out. Let him know what you are working on. He'll change that as he sees fit. – NotMe Oct 28 '14 at 15:06
  • As in, ask them to have daily standup meetings (5 minutes should be enough). To confirm tasks, priorities, issues. – smci Dec 18 '14 at 17:55

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